Romeo & Juliet - Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet

I am fairly certain that the last time I had the pleasure of seeing Rudi vanDantzig's stunning R&J was as a fairly small child at some point in the mid 90's. So it was with great joy that I shared the RWB's production with my young daughter during this season, after preparing her with a "coles notes" of the story. The company shows off well in this piece which features stunning group scenes performed with fantastic unison and emphasized by Prokofiev's alternatingly angry and soothing score. And the leads acquitted themselves beautifully; Yosuke Mino's playful Mercutio danced the riddles of the text, while former company members such as Tara Birthwistle and Johnny Xiang playing the parents. These all highlighted the strength of young Elisabeth Lamont who made her debut as Juliet during this production. Lamont's artistry was outstanding - she clearly thought through each moment of the story in beautiful detail, showing us Juliet's joy and heartbreak. This was probably one of the few times I've been emotionally moved by this story in years, having studied it so technically and intensively to creative ends. 

To be on balance, if the RWB are to re-mount this ballet again they may want to consider an update to the set which at times felt a bit worse for wear. It was complemented nicely by stunning lighting design and lavish costumes, however. 

The Handmaid's Tale - Royal Winnipeg Ballet

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet company have developed a reputation for exciting contemporary story ballets in recent years, so it was truly exciting to learn that the company had paired with NYC choreographer Lila York to interpret Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale. From its very start, the piece set a highly theatrical tone, beginning with the stage opened in plain view, and  a stark set which simultaneously evoked the prison in Chicago and the brothel in Miss Saigon. Many steps were taken to give a feeling of being watched, including follow spots situated on the stage, and the very opening sequence in which Offred is stolen away from her family as they sat in the lower part of the stalls.

York's choreography clearly evoked the many complicated relationships, from the rigid and painful movements of the handmaids, to the sweeping jumps of the resistance, to the most uneasy feeling of voyeurism we felt as we watched Offred, the Colonel and his Wife dance a sickening pas de trois in which his wife used Offred as an extension of her own body. There are countless images from throughout the piece which called up similar feelings.

The company looked good throughout, although much of the corps work could have been cleaner. In particular, Yayoi Ban was fantastic as the headmistress of the handmaids, and Elisabeth Lamont's feature as the pregnant handmaid was stunning. Amanda Green had a spunky charm as Offred, but was out shone by the fabulous Sophia Lee dancing opposite her.

I look forward to this piece becoming a part of the company's regular repetoire.

Taking Things Apart

I had the unique opportunity yesterday to be in the audience for a filming of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's acclaimed Moulin Rouge, choreographed by Jordan Morris. The project will be  broadcast to cineplex theatres around the world, and is a really monumental occasion for the nearly 75 year old company, home to many brilliant dancers.

What was really exciting for me was the process; having trained in dance myself, I am most engaged with the work of the dancer, and the effort made to make it appear effortless. Due to filming, the ballet was shot out of sequence (as it is easier to situate cameras and costumes for filming this way) which had an unusual effect. What it brought out was a reminder of the work that goes into performing a ballet of this magnitude. Occasionally while waiting for technical setup, the dancers would wait on stage, stretching or reviewing their choreography - things that always happen, but typically are hidden from the audience to maintain the illusion of perfection. As well, the movement of sets and testing of lights throughout was unintentionally performative, and highly engaging.

It was just as much an experience of dance performance as it was an experience of the structure and production of dance performance - something ballet of all modern art forms has the tendency to hide. The result was the most Brechtian dance performance you could imagine. Verfremmdungseffekt is generally the antithesis of classical ballet - whose very aim is to transport you along with the story - however in this instance the distancing, the objective observation of the behaviour, was truly possible. A moment when Zeigler pulls a pistol on the young lovers, then proceeds with a dance of seductive pas de deux with Natalie, gun still in hand, was haunting in a way it couldn't have been had we been caught up in her story. As well, the masochism of ballet rang loud and clear (perhaps ironically for a company which recently dismissed a student for appearance in a porn) with the fact that the goal of all female characters was valuation and redemption in the eyes of a male character.

I'm very excited to see the piece "Put together" as it were, in the intended order, as it will be a very different experience of the ballet.

New Perspectives

Spent a long and meandering day today, moving from one project to the next. Began with a voice tutorial with Adrienne Smook, an MA Voice student at Central who is offering small group and private tutorials for voice work with us. We first did a 45 minute group warmup, focused primarily on breathing - connecting breath with thought and the impulse to speak. One exercise I quite liked was a visualization of a specific place, where noises were used to identify things. This really served to help connect intention with breath and therefore voice. Another exercise I think I will use in workshops and classes is throwing a ball around the space, connecting breath, then a specific vocalization with the movement of the ball....aiming to curb the impulse to stop the breath and movement, allowing for smooth and continuous flow.

We also had a smaller private session with Adrienne, working on some more specific deep breathing and breath connection exercises. These really resonated with what I have been doing individually, connecting movement to voice - in this case, relaxation to voice relaxation, but using gravity in fetal or child's pose.

After this, went over to the Old Vic Tunnels for a dance dramaturgy workshop with Maryann Hushlak, dramaturg on Without Words. In some ways, this simply echoed our classes from last term with Paul Sirett about the role of the dramaturg. What I did find useful was the exercises and discussion on finding a language of creation. Maryann emphasized the importance of listening to how the creator talks about the projet, the kinds of words or phrases they use - this helps create a shared terminology of description for the process, and also enables creation of more practical materials like grant proposals. She also talked a lot about her process, particularly in the performance phase - analyzing the performance as well as the audience's reception. This is something I want to work into my workshop presentation in the dissertation - I am wondering if a Q&A would be useful to help understand the impact of the versions we see....and then help me draw some conclusions about identity and ghosts.

Finally, off to Birkbeck for Scene Study. A lot of talk of Hegel and Antigone today, so very apropo for my thoughts (not just now...always, really). I'm formulating my approach to the manifesto assignment, and think that I want to flesh out an anarchist tragedy of sorts...why do we need to define tragedy? Why do we spend so much time worrying about this? Now just to figure out how the form can merge...


A video of Lindsay Kemp's Flowers, inspired by Jean Genet's Notre Dame Des Fleurs, which I am reading right now.

Words can't even begin to describe what this does. Kemp manages to embody the extreme beauty and grotesqueness of Genet's words, the perfect balance of the two.

She dies beautifully.

Review: Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! - Sadler's Wells Theatre

How do I even begin to describe this? Bourne's imagination is unparalleled, taking the well-known story of the Nutcracker, and twisting out a playful perspective. The nods to classical ballet throughout were wonderful, with little details such as the bratty brother/sister's exaggerated toe-first turned out walk, to the arabian dancer's final pose, however Bourne twists these and "shakes them up" for the audience. As well, his references to pop-culture were overflowing; one couldn't help but think of Marilyn Monroe's rendition of Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend when watching the young heroine with her nutcracker and gaggle of topless men, or of boy bands when watching his russian dancers. What I found most remarkable about this was his ability to push the boundaries, to squeeze out the underlying themes in the story and magnify them for us to see, while still creating a story that was extremely watchable and enjoyable.

With some trepidation, I took my 7 year old daughter and husband to this show. My daughter has seen quite a bit of ballet for her age, but never The Nutcracker, despite being very familiar with the story and Tchaikovsky's score. My husband has seen only a little ballet, and again, never a Nutcracker. Both loved it! They had a lot of fun with the story, and the fabulous set and lighting design had an impact on the audience, even from up in the second circle.

I am SO unendingly happy to have been able to see this show, and share it with my family. More Bourne for all!!

The Blue Danube

Today's movement class was led by Darren Royston, a choreographer and dance teacher who works at RADA. He along with Darryl lead the Language of the Body portion of our course. This was a fun, silly, and awakening sort of class. We began by moving around the room, dancing and imagining we were young Laban exploring the ways in which our body can move. From here we extrapolated into following him through some Laban scales and various movement qualities. Put in small groups, we had to create a scene showing the extremes of movement, putting a story to it. It was fascinating to watch as each group went through their scenes with various degrees of extremism, and the characters and feelings that were evoked throughout. Finally we looked at the planes of movement; door, table and wheel. Interacting with one another in these planes was quite interesting.

Overall the class was fun and informative; we spent 3 hours seemingly goofing about, but by the end felt as though we had learned about how we physically interact with one another, and how this can be dramatized. This work, unlike some of the more theoretical Laban work, felt like it echoed the outside-in style of work I had done with Brenda and Theatre Incarnate. Simply allowing the body to go to a position, and then explore that position physically and intellectually, was quite lovely. I feel like we get caught up in how a character should move based on time period and status, that we lose a little of the authenticity in the movement....this kind of work can bring us back to it.